More books, poorer service?

August 31, 2007

A letter about the Hillingdon plans highlights the proposed closure of an enquiry desk. The issue of the loss of professional staff- euphemistically called ‘redeployment’ by the council- is also discussed in local papers.

A simplistic more books and nice coffee model is being offered to people. Of course more books is good; but not at the expense of the ‘comprehensive’ service a good library should provide. The people of Hillingdon neither need nor deserve a Waterstones/Borders-or even an Ideas Store, which is close to what they are getting.

An insidious rhetoric is also being used by Councillor Higgins- the new project representing a ‘vast improvement,’ suggesting that the service is currently terrible. Which it is not. The idea that access to computers is something new. Which it is not. One wonders if he’ s seen any of the libraries he is responsible for, or spoken to any of the staff…

Interests are being served by this project, but it does not seem to be those of the users. Edit I simply mean the legitimate interests of business and party. /Edit



August 29, 2007

My rather abstract thoughts on the future of libraries, alongside some of my colleagues.

Following up on a few thoughts- public libraries, librarians and the value of each

August 29, 2007

So, why do some librarians seem to value their job, qualifications etc so little?

I think with some it is a genuine desire to be equal and fair handed. Remove barriers. No more professional/paraprofessional.

That said, what message does that send? It is a message often given without any well thought out alternative for training and development. When it comes from non-librarians it is about saving money, whatever the cover; from librarians it’s a little less clear but the impact can be the same. Librarianship isn’t anything to worry about.

If librarianship isn’t anything to worry about, why should libraries be? Ah, Pete, aren’t libraries just about books and access to them?

No. They are about people gathering those books, making them accessible, sharing their knowledge of them etc. They are about adding value to a collection of books ( and, as the Act says, other resources.) And librarianship should be about that. What that means for library education is another post; but there is still a need for a structured program of training and reflection leading to a recgonised qualification.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with hierarchies either…

In public library terms saving money is all very well, and efficiency is important. But there will come a time when the savings become damaging and you aren’t left with a public library but a bookshop manquee; and based on a poor bookshop model at that.

There needs to be a balance between books and people, the resources and the services that go with them. Current plans for Hillingdon, which could well influence other councils, are based on a simplistic money saving get more books in model, with a side order of Starbucks to go. The councillors will get to pose outside their shiny new libraries, and are already celebrating triumph. But what of the people of Hillingdon- will we hear from them? And the library staff?

Edit Early indicators were that the project had been well received and that usage figures in the first of the remodelled libraries had increased. Staff and the local MP held a vigil to highlight the staff issues, but little was made of it. /Edit

A few thoughts

August 24, 2007

Some things I plan to come back to after the Bank holiday weekend:-

  • Hillingdon: how significant is the use of ‘ ‘ around qualified, as in ‘qualified’ librarians?
  • Hillingdon: and since when was a library a retail centre?
  • Hillingdon: why couldn’t a local coffee shop have been given the opportunity? Why go for the sanctimonious milk peddlers?
  • Hillingdon: it’s all about books and frontline issue/return services. Oh and coffee. Are libraries just nice buildings with books and a cafe? Isn’t that what Waterstones was some time ago, and that model isn’t working for them? What about the other roles and value of libraries? 
  • Librarians: why do so many hate the job they do? Why do so many piss on their own chips? Why so little promotion of the value staff can add?
  • Community involvement: how do people like John Pateman suggest this will work? And why do they seem to think that there is a tyranny of librarians which the ‘community’ are too meek to complain about? Come to it, who are the ‘community’?
  • Community involvement: does the SACRE model offer a way forward?

Fiction in public libraries

August 23, 2007

Initial comment here.

Whilst it is not the case that the primary role of libraries is to provide fiction- much less to support the poor publishers- the place of fiction is a good indicator of attitudes to books in general.

Mr Ezra is wrong in asserting that fiction is of declining  importance. It’s a short step from that to asserting that books as a whole are less important.

Mr Cheetham is wrong in making Mr Ezra’s words a ‘proposal’, regardless of his position at the MLA.

That said, a clear commitment to a varied fiction and non-fiction bookstock from the MLA wouldn’t go amiss.

Hillingdon sums

August 22, 2007

Initial report here and the council report here.

If £80k is being diverted from an RFID project to fund the refurb, and the new bookstock is to be funded from savings on consortium purchasing- so no new monies there- where is the other £180k being saved from? Edit Some of the refurb money, 30%, was spent on new books. /Edit Is it all acounted for by the 30% cheaper furniture and supply chain improvements? Perhaps some of it is from the savings on books? Or the Starbucks deal? Or the ‘scaling back’ of outreach?

Can the Council comment on this ‘saving’? They should be proud to, saving public money like that.

They will retrain all staff so there is no distinction, no assistants and librarians. Just one level of jack-of-all trades staff to serve in the ‘enhanced’ hours. And these people, despite their ‘enhanced’ training are likely to be paid less.

My underlying concern is that Hillingdon residents- and it seems few to none of them were consulted- will get a lot of shiny new coffee shops and libraries with lots of new books, and noone to provide any more service than dishing out books and some sort of mediocre fits all ‘information’ service- and coffee of course.

A building full of books is not a library, no matter how many books or how nice the building.

Library 2.0 ness

August 22, 2007

Interesting comments on the “Library 2.0 Manifesto” over at the Annoyed Librarian.

Seems like 2.0 isn’t a settled issue. And I agree with a lot of what the AL says on this point. Edit:  though I maintain my commitment to the middle ground. The Manifesto encapsulates some worthwhile ideas, just in a worthy way.

Any library manifesto should boil down to ‘I will listen to all users and using my judgement and experience seek to serve them as best as I can, within the law and the budget; recognising that I cannot make them all happy, nor do everything I want, nor abdicate my repsonsibility in the name of user-centred service.’